Several years of efforts by multiple agencies to reduce the number of veterans who are homeless in Hennepin County have paid off.
Results from a 2012 report on homelessness in Hennepin County show the number of homeless veterans has decreased by nearly 53 percent from 2009, said Matthew Ayres, a project manager with the Minneapolis/Hennepin County Office to End Homelessness.
In 2009, there were 267 veterans in shelters or living on the streets, Ayres said. In 2012, he said, the number reduced to 126.
Between 2011 and 2012 alone Ayres said the reduction in the number of homeless veterans was about 29 percent compared to the national average of about 7 percent.
“The reason we’ve seen the dramatic reduction compared to the other groups is (the) federal government has made a committment to end veterans homelessness in five years,” Ayres said.
Resources from the federal level include vouchers to help veterans pay rent from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and assistance from the U.S. Veterans Administration.
The federal agencies have also worked to ensure veterans they help find housing have access to other services they need.
“The VA and HUD have created the wraparound support to keep people stable,” Ayres said.
Hennepin County has its own plan to end homelessness by 2016 in partnership with the city of Minneapolis. The efforts started in 2006.
Hennepin County District 3 Commissioner Gail Dorfman said the county board and staff started to notice that homeless single adults and veterans were frequently “cycling through” the jail, the emergency room and homeless shelters. The cycle was a cost to the county and showed how the people who were homeless needed help, she siad. Many, especially the veterans, had been homeless for up to a decade, Dorfman said.
“We knew we needed to break the cycle. It was going to be good for taxpayers and good for these individuals to get stable housing and the resources,” she said. “The goal was to focus our attention and resources on veterans and single people.”
New housing was built for veterans and others had help finding market-rate housing to live in, Dorfman said.
Hennepin County also focuses on preventing homelessness.
There is $1 million in federal funding issued to the state of Minnesota to help pay for meeting the needs of veterans so they can stay in their homes, Ayres said. The funding helps veterans with anything from paying their heat bill to emergency car repairs so they can continue to drive to work and earn money, he said. “It really helps make sure people don’t become homeless.”
Ayres said the federal funding is available for renewal to continue to help with the prevention efforts.
Bringing services closer to the people who need them is another effort of the county. The Century Plaza service center in downtown Minneapolis is closing and similar centers throughout the county will open. The Northwest Family Service Center is open in Brooklyn Center and others will be in Plymouth and Bloomington, Dorfman said.
One of the next steps is also helping homeless families.
“While we were focusing our attentions on homeless veterans and single adults, the number of homeless families went up,” Dorfman said.
However, it can be difficult to find housing with enough room for families.
“Every one of our strategies needs to be coupled with finding more affordable housing in our community,” Ayres said.
Contact Katy Zillmer at [email protected]